I Need Help – PRACTICAL HELP FOR WHEN YOU LEAVE THE ALAMO GROUP
STARTING OUT IN MAINSTREAM AMERICA – By Livia Bardin, M.S.W.
New online resource for people who have left abusive groups, their families and friends, and professionals working to help them
(To access this information on the ICSA website, go to: http://icsahome.com, scroll down and on the right hand side click on “Starting out in Mainstream America”) We are printing it here for ease of use. The complete article for each section is printed in order below the links.
IMPORTANT: YOU MAY ALSO CLICK ON EACH LINK TO READ EACH SECTION ON ICSA’S WEBSITE
IMPORTANT: IF A LINK IS MISSING ON THIS SITE, CLICK ON THE TOPIC LINK TO BE TAKEN TO THE ICSA WEBSITE.
Housing and Utilities
Mail & Packages
Jobs & Careers
Money & Budgeting
Health and Self Care
Getting Health Care
Boundaries and Relationships
Abuse & Neglect
Parenting after the cult
Teenagers on their own
There are two major sources of free information in the United States: the public library and the Internet.
The Public Library
All metropolitan areas in the United States and many smaller towns have public libraries. Public libraries offer
free computer use
a reference librarian to help you search
newspapers and magazines
books, CDs, videos, and DVDs
classes and lectures.
The public library is free. You can go to any public library and use its services without any charges.
To find the public library in your area, Google “public library,” plus the name of your city, or look in the local government section of your telephone book under “Library, Public.”
There is no charge for using the library or any of its services. (There are charges if you don’t return borrowed items when due, or if you lose them.)
To take books and other items out of the library, you need a library card issued by the library.
Free Computer Use
Almost all public libraries have computers for the public to use. Most have time restrictions —generally one hour—for this use; but if no one is waiting, the librarian in charge may let you continue until someone else needs the machine.
Here you can access this book, research many of the things you need to know, and open and maintain a free e-mail account.
Library computers are often in demand, so it’s best to go during school hours on weekdays, if you can.
If you can’t go at these times, libraries
are usually open on Saturdays;
may have evening hours on some days during the week;
are sometimes open on Sundays, as well.
Any library worker will tell you where the computers are and how to sign up to use them.
If you are not familiar with computers and need help, the library staff will help you.
The Reference Librarian
The reference librarian helps people find the information they need. From local or basic needs, like job openings, to unusual questions, such as the language spoken in a remote part of India, the reference librarian will put you on the track. Reference librarians are usually pleasant and helpful, and they seem to relish hunting for information.
At neighborhood branches and other small libraries, there is generally only one reference librarian.
Main libraries in large cities may have several reference librarians in different departments. The main desk will tell you where to find the reference librarian you need.
Libraries also stock traditional research tools, including
maps and atlases
specialty encyclopedias, such as reference books that focus on a given subject, like medical terms
These items can be helpful if your access to computers is limited or if you’re just more comfortable with print materials.
Newspapers and Magazines
Libraries subscribe to many newspapers and magazines that you can read on the premises.
Print media are important even if you have access to television.
TV favors news that makes good pictures, so important news with little visual appeal may not get attention. While local TV news may highlight a house fire, for instance, the local newspaper may cover a new service or program you could use.
Print media cover more topics, offering information about marriages and deaths, for example.
The newspaper also has more local advertising than TV.
Local supermarket chains advertise weekly specials in the newspaper, for instance; and on weekends, you can find quite a selection of used goods, from furniture to musical instruments, at bargain prices.
This kind of information is also widely available on the Internet, but often is harder to find.
Sometimes print format is more useful—for example, if you want to compare local prices.
Books, CDs, Videos, and DVDs
Books, CDs, videos, and DVDs are the mainstay of libraries.
To take these materials home with you, you will need a library card. With a photo ID, you can usually get a library card immediately; you can then borrow items for a set time, generally two to three weeks.
Most libraries also let you extend this time by another two weeks if you haven’t finished with the material before the due date.
Some libraries limit the number of items you can take at one time; others don’t. The librarians will tell you what the limits are.
Libraries are beginning to offer electronic books as well, for those who can use them. If you have a library card, you can get e-books without actually going to the library. However, libraries currently don’t have many titles in this category.
with a library card, you have access to a wonderful variety of materials for education and entertainment—at no cost.
You can use the computerized catalogue system to find out whether the library has a particular item you want, or you can ask the librarian.
Most libraries also display selections of books they think readers will enjoy.
you also can ask the librarian for recommendations about whatever topic interests you.
Classes and Lectures
Some public libraries offer free or low-priced classes such as
English for speakers of other languages (ESOL),
general educational development (GED).
Many libraries also offer free programs on topics ranging from personal finance to foreign policy.
The Internet has almost unimaginable power to help or harm you. It’s an indispensable tool, but you should use it with care. The amount of content can be overwhelming, and it’s an inviting hang-out for crooks and con men, as well as quacks—people who advertise skills and cures they cannot really provide.
Since you are reading this book, you already know something about the Internet, so this section has only a quick overview of the basics. It focuses on how to evaluate the information you find online.
You will find suggestions about Web sites focused on specific topics in the sections about each subject throughout this book. Good places to look for jobs are listed in Jobs and Careers, for instance.
The letters URL stand for Uniform Resource Locator, or, in effect, the address of the Web site. For purposes of basic Internet use, what is important in the URL is the domain name, which consists of an individual title and a suffix—the three letters at the end of the address that follow a dot. The three letters tell you something about the site:
.com means the site is a commercial Web site, there to do business (even though ICSA, a nonprofit educational organization, has a Web site that ends in .com. This example shows only that there are exceptions to almost everything.).
.net is a variation of .com and means the same.
.biz is another variation of .com and means the same.
.org means the site owner is a nonprofit or charitable organization.
.edu means the site owner is a school, college, or other educational organization.
.gov means the site belongs to a government agency—federal, state or local.
If you are looking for information about a specific topic, you will probably use a search engine. A search engine is a Web site that collects information and stores it by key words, called search terms.
When you enter a name or topic, the search engine lists all the Web sites in its collection that include your search terms.
Here are some tips for choosing search terms:
Place quotation marks around two or more words that must appear together. For instance, on one major search engine
Computer printer generates more than ten million entries.
generates a little less than two million entries.
The more specific the search term, the more precise the results. As an example, on one search engine
“Candidates for president” generates 199,000 entries.
“Candidates for president in 1940” generates two entries.
Use a plus (+) sign if two or more terms must be included in the results, but do not necessarily have to appear together; for example,
“Lawyers + Los Angeles” or “sales + Macy’s + Philadelphia”
Google and Yahoo
Two large and useful search engines are Google and Yahoo.
Both carry paid advertisements (which they call
sponsored listings) that are separated from unpaid search results. Sometimes this distinction is important; sometimes it doesn’t matter.
Both have a band above the search window with a list of options that may speed your search. Google offers options for Images, Maps, and News, among others. Yahoo offers Images, Video, and Local options. Both search engines will show more options if you click on “more.”
Both sites offer free email services.
The Google and Yahoo Web sites use different procedures, so you will often find information on one that is not listed on the other. Each site also has some useful features not available on the other.
In addition to the options listed in the bar above the search window, Google offers options to the right of the search window:
provides ways to narrow down your search.
lets you pick a different language, adjust the filter, or change the number of listings on a page.
allows you—sort of—to get results from another language translated into the language of your choice. Use this feature cautiously.
Yahoo offers a helpful shortcut to comparison shopping. Click on Shopping in the row above the search window, and enter a search term, such as “shoes.” You will get a list of shoes sold on the Internet, with a variety of ways to narrow your search by, for instance, price, color, type, and size.
Clicking on local above the search window will divide the window into two sections. One section will ask you to enter the business or service you are looking for; the other will ask you for the location.
If you enter “Shoes” and “Seattle, WA,” You will get a list of places in Seattle that includes shoe stores, shoe repair shops, and, at the end, options for neighborhoods, categories, and even names of specific places.
A list of special sections in the left-hand column on the Yahoo home page has some helpful offerings.
Real estate lets you enter the location, type, and size of housing, and the amount you can pay; it then pulls up listings that meet your criteria.
Autos lets you do a similar search for new or used vehicles.
Travel lets you compare times and prices of flights, and car rentals; it also offers hotel rooms and vacation planning.
TV will help you find listings for local programs.
A very popular reference site, Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia project written by volunteers.
Anyone can post an article on Wikipedia, or edit an existing article by adding information, cross-references, or citations. Writers must cite references for the information they post here.
Because Wikipedia is so free flowing, articles may contain false information or omit important information. The theory is that, eventually, volunteer editors will correct the article. Information not supported by references may be removed.
Wikipedia claims that studies have shown it to be broadly as reliable as more conventional encyclopaedias; but it cautions that, at the time you are reading it, a given article may have mistakes.
There are many other search engines.
Some specialize in topics such as medicine or business.
Others, like www.shopzilla.com, compare online prices of thousands of items.
Some, such as www.CNET.com, a computer-oriented site, offer reviews of the items they list.
Some search engine sites are helpful, some are confusing, some are clearly biased one way or another, and some are deceptive or otherwise potentially harmful.
Here are a few tips to help you distinguish what’s useful from what’s questionable and/or dangerous as you search for information on the Internet:
Compare information from at least two sites. For instance, consider the differences in the following information from different sites:
“Alternative cancer treatments can easily cure newly diagnosed cancer patients in the vast majority of cases.”
“Quackwatch has heard from several people who have been defrauded of large sums of money pursuing nonexistent ‘cancer cures’.”
Web sites that end in .com, .net, or .biz are likely to be selling something. (“Diagnosed with cancer? Check with our oncology specialists online today. There is hope.”) Their information will be focused to promote the product or service they are selling.
Beware of sites that
make claims based on personal experience (“Dr. Lorraine Day reversed her advanced cancer by rebuilding her immune system using natural therapies.”);
claim to have “the best” (“We’ve selected the top 5 sites for cancer cures here.”);
ask for your personal information (name, address, social security number, etc.) as a condition of entry.
Search engines such as Google and Yahoo will instantly—and randomly—produce thousands of results for searches like “cancer cures,” for example. It’s easy to get lost in a swamp of oddball Web sites if you don’t watch out.
On a sample day, Google provided 139,000 results for the search term “cancer cures.” The top links listed had no connection with respected cancer research organizations. In fact, they included some highly suspect links, such as
“Harry Hoxsey’s cancer cures and the U.S. government campaign to destroy them,” and
“Canadian herbal remedies result proven by the Chinese Ministry of Health.”
The first link to a reputable source of information, the American Cancer Society, was tenth on Google’s list.
Yahoo gave 201,000 results overall. It offered options: natural cancer cures, alternative cancer cures, and a variety of specific cancer cures.
Although the American Cancer Society was second on its list, the first entry was a sales site focusing on “nutritional therapy and alternative medicine,” with a plea at the top of its home page to the effect that “I need some sales if I’m going to stay in business….”
One of the most reliable places to look for information about cancer, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Web site, was nowhere near the top of either list. Another well-known, reputable site, WebMD, was similarly obscure.
News, Books, and Magazines
The Internet also offers a rich supply of news sources. Online news will be more up-to-the-minute than printed news. If you are closely following on ongoing event, like wildfires in California, or you want to know who won an election, Internet news will have the most up-to-date reports. You can also get specialized news, such as stock market developments, overseas publications, or press releases and public documents of governments and businesses. Here are a few ways to get news on the Internet:
Major and local newspapers maintain Web sites and update their stories frequently. Most repeat their print stories and advertisements, as do TV networks, cable TV news channels, and many radio stations.
Ezines are online-only publications. Some of these, such as Slate or Salon, are widely read. Most link the reader to a huge number of other sources of information and opinion.
Blogs are sites where individuals post personal observations and opinions about an immense number of subjects. Blogs are extremely variable in reliability, quality, relevance, and significance. Some bloggers are just sounding off; others are respected experts in their fields. Some blogs are full of information, referring the reader to dozens of excellent sources; others are simply opinionated, offering nothing more than unsupported assertions.
Podcasts are digital files distributed over the Internet via computers and portable media players to multiple other sites. Some podcasts are live; others are recordings of previous programs. Like blogs, podcasts cover the range of subjects, quality, and reliability.
Social Networking Sites
“Trust, but verify” is the most practical approach to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Although they are not primarily intended to be sources of information, a great deal of information is available on these sites. They invite everyone to post personal information about their ideas and activities in a semi-private forum.
Free and simple to use, social networking sites appeal to millions. And because they appeal so broadly, they may provide both remarkably valuable and remarkably worthless information.
There are widely recognized, though informal, rules for people who communicate via the Internet. You can find information about these rules, called “Netiquette.” Newer conventions arise to meet the latest situations as the Internet develops, but these basic guidelines will probably remain in effect.
Certain precautions are advisable, both about information you receive and information you offer, if you participate in the intensely intertwined Internet community.
The most important things to remember about any electronic communication—email, blog, tweet, or anything else—are that
Once posted or sent, the communication is out of your control.
You cannot know who will find it.
You cannot know how it will be used. There are countless stories about
prospective employers who discover disqualifying information, like a boast about cheating on tests, on applicants’ Facebook pages, or
women who’ve broken off romantic relationships, and then find erotic pictures of themselves posted by malicious exes for public viewing.
Protect yourself by thinking before you post or send electronic communications. You might as well be sending them to the whole world.
Checking Others’ Information
It’s easy to fake an Internet identity—to post a photo of oneself at a much younger age (or even of someone else), or to invent a job, a life style, a hometown, or any other detail. This leaves social networkers vulnerable to scammers and other criminals.
Set up first encounters with people you meet online without divulging your address or phone number. It’s best to meet in a public place like a park or restaurant in a central location—not just once, but several times, until you are comfortable that this is not a fake of some kind.
Be aware of signs of fakery or other common signs of deception. Signs of fakery may be familiar to you from your experience in a group. Some signs to be cautious about from Internet contacts are
Immediate and extreme flattery about how wonderful or perfect you are;
Pressure to move the relationship forward faster, borrow money, or join some enterprise;
Probing for information about your financial or family situation;
Evasiveness about sharing their own personal information; or the opposite,
Undue readiness to share intimate personal information (which puts pressure on you to do the same). If you are uncertain about this kind of exchange, read more at
Boundaries and Relationships.
Information overload may occur when you take in more information than your brain can readily process. The resulting confusion can lead to decisions or actions that are as harmful as those based on wrong information or too little information. Keep in mind that
Each person learns according to need and capacity.
Gathering information is one stage. Assessing information and applying it well are at least equally demanding. Especially where so much may be new to you, it’s important to take your time and go in stages.
One good safeguard comes from the “Stop and think” rule—let things settle in for a few days before you decide what is the best source of information or make decisions based on your research findings.
You also can consult acknowledged experts and seasoned former members as filters or pointers when self-methods fail or falter.
DOCUMENTS AND PAPERS
Documents and Papers
Certain documents, like proof of identity and a social security card, are essential for many basic needs:
To get a job
To rent housing
To open a bank or credit account
If you don’t already have these documents, it can take weeks—or months—to get them. Therefore, you may want to start the process even before you leave the group.
You will need an address where the documents can be sent.
If you have not yet left the group and plan to move when you do, you can rent a Post Office Box or use a mail service, or arrange to use the address of a friend or relative on your applications.
A fee is charged for official copies of most documents. Note ahead of time:
how much the fee is, and
what forms of payment the agency will take.
Many will not take cash.
Some require cash.
Some will take money orders or credit or debit cards.
Some will also take personal checks.
Depending on which documents you need, the fees could add up, so you may need to plan carefully and save ahead.
Proof of Identity and U.S. Citizenship
You can show proof of your identity and U.S. citizenship with various documents. If you are not a U.S. citizen, proof-of-identify requirements are somewhat different. In either case, the required documents may vary depending on the situation. So it’s important to be aware of all the options for your situation and be prepared in advance with the documentation you may need.
The most basic proof of identity is a certified copy of your birth certificate. If you were born in the United States, the birth certificate is also proof of citizenship.
A plain copy won’t do. It must be a copy certified as valid by the agency that issued the original.
Even if you have other proofs of identity, this is a handy document to have because it doesn’t expire.
If you are a U.S. citizen born abroad, a U.S. Department of State “Certification of Birth Abroad” is your proof of citizenship.
Birth certificates are issued by the individual states. To get a certified copy of your birth certificate if you were born in the United States, you can google “Vital Statistics,” plus the state where you were born to get information about how and where to send your request.
The state will want to know the date and place you were born, and your parents’ names.
There is usually a fee for this service.
It can take several weeks to get a birth certificate, so start this process as early as possible.
Here is a sample letter asking for your birth certificate.
Problems getting a certified copy of your birth certificate.. If you get back a notice that there is no record of your birth, don’t despair:
Double-check your application to make sure you put down the information correctly. For instance, if you have lived in a country where numeric dates are commonly entered as day/month/year, 10/08/92 means August 10, 1992. But in the United States, dates are usually entered as month/day/year, and the same numbers would mean October 8, 1992.
Check with family members to make sure you actually were born in the state where your parents were living (and not while your mother was traveling in a different state, for example).
Confirm that the name on the birth certificate is the name you think it is and that it is spelled the way you now spell it; do the same for the date of birth.
If all your original information was correct, visit, phone, or email the state’s vital statistics bureau. Ask if there is another place where the certificate might be stored. The State of New York, for instance, used to store vital statistics of New York City residents separately, in the city, and statistics for the rest of the state in Albany, New York.
If you have changed your name, you also will need the original or a certified copy of the marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order that specifies the name change in order to prove your identity.
A passport is proof both of identity and of citizenship. Even if your U.S. passport has expired, it is acceptable as proof of identity and citizenship for renewal purposes if it is not damaged or altered.
It’s easier to renew a passport before it expires, especially if you don’t have a birth certificate handy.
Here is a summary of the procedure for getting a passport. You can get full information about renewing your passport online.
To renew a U.S. passport, you will need to pay the stated fee plus the cost of two passport photos and any postage fees. (You also can speed up processing time by paying an additional fee.)
You can renew your passport by mail.
If your passport has expired, or is lost or stolen, or if your name has changed since it was originally issued, however, you will need to apply in person for a replacement.
If you never had a passport, the State Department has clear directions on how you can establish your identity and citizenship.
If these links don’t work, just go to Google and search by entering “Renew U.S. passport” or “Get U.S. passport.”
Certificate of Citizenship
If need be, you can go through a complicated, expensive process to get a Certificate of Citizenship, primarily designed for people who were born abroad to American citizens. It’s a challenge to sort through the long lists of fine distinctions and to understand the instructions. If you must get this Certificate, try to get someone to partner with you, if only to keep you from giving up at the complexity.
To obtain a Certificate of Citizenship, start at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site.
This process requires many documents, such as your parents’ birth certificates or other proof of their citizenship, and possibly even an interview.
Certificate of U.S. Naturalization
If you are not a U.S. citizen by birth, you will need a certified copy of your Certificate of U.S. Naturalization (Form N-550 or N-570).
You can look online for directions on how to request a copy, or to replace a lost, stolen, or destroyed certificate.
Proof of Identity for Non-U.S. Citizens
If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need documents with a photo, your full name, and date of birth, such as the following:
Unexpired U.S.-issued ID from the Department of Homeland Security or the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, such as a Resident Alien Card or Temporary Resident Identification Card
Foreign passport with a visa
Unexpired U.S. Military ID card
Requirements vary from state to state. To check requirements in your state, Google the state, plus “driver’s license” or “photo ID.”
Social Security Card
Whether or not you are a U.S. citizen, a Social Security card is a primary identification document required for employment. There is no fee for this card, but if you are applying for the first time, or live near a Social Security office, you must appear in person to get a card. The following summary is from the Web site where you can go to get more detailed information and download the application forms you will need to fill out.
To get a Social Security number or a replacement card, you must
Complete an application
Prove your U.S. citizenship or immigration status. Proof of citizenship must be a
U.S. birth certificate
Certificate of Naturalization
Certificate of Citizenship
If you are not a U.S. citizen, you must show proof of your immigration status, such as
Department of Homeland Security Form I-551;
Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94) with your unexpired foreign passport; or
Work permit card (Form I-766 [Employment Authorization Document EAD) (see below)]
Have proof of age and identity. An acceptable proof of identity must show
identifying information about you
a recent photograph
Usually a driver’s license, nondriver photo ID, or passport meets the proof of age and identity requirement. (This could become tricky because many states require your Social Security number to issue the ID.)
If you don’t have and can’t get one of these proofs of identify within 10 days, Social Security will accept the following:
Employee ID card;
School ID card;
Health insurance card (not a Medicare card);
U.S. Military ID card; or
For a replacement Social Security card, proof of your U.S. citizenship and age are not required if they are already in the records.
To get a library card, open a bank account, or travel on an airplane, and for many other purposes, you must have a photo identification card, generally referred to as an “ID.” Depending on whether or not you drive, you will end up with either a driver’s license or a non-driver photo ID. The Department of Motor Vehicles in the state where you live issues both kinds of IDs. To find the exact requirements for a photo ID in your state, google either “driver’s license” or “nondriver photo ID,” plus the name of the state. In general, be ready to produce the following:
Proof of identity (birth certificate or passport);
Social Security number;
Proof that you live at the address listed on your application; and
If you are not a U.S. citizen, proof that you are legally in the country.
There is a charge in the range of $20 to $25 for this service in most states. Check your state’s Web site for the exact amount and the types of payment it will accept.
Photo IDs are usually issued for a set term. It’s important to keep them current by renewing regularly because expired IDs are not accepted as valid.
Proof of Address
To get a photo ID, you will need to prove that you live at a specific address within the state that issues the ID.
The usual proof is a utility (water, electricity, or landline telephone) or property tax bill addressed to you at the address on your application.
A signed lease or rental agreement is usually acceptable as proof of address.
If you are staying with a friend or family member, or renting a room, you probably won’t have either of these items. Most states will accept a form or letter from a third person—a permanent resident of the home where you are staying, accompanied by a copy of that person’s ID, verifying your residency at that address. The resident may have to appear personally with you, as well.
If you are in a shelter, an official at the shelter can advise you what to do. Usually a letter from shelter staff verifying your residency there is acceptable.
Again, different states have different rules about this. Be sure to check your state’s Web site or verify by phone exactly what is needed.
Proof of Legal Residence in the United States
Many states now require non-citizens to provide proof that they are legally in the country. Such proof might be a
temporary or permanent resident card;
refugee travel document;
immigration judge’s order granting asylum; or
a host of other documents (especially if you are a Canadian citizen).
Again, check the photo ID Web site of the state in which you live.
Authorization to Work in the United States
If you are not a U.S. citizen, but want to work in the United States, prospective employers will require an authorization to work. This document takes different forms, depending on your status:
If you are a permanent or conditional permanent resident, your Alien Registration Card is your authorization to work.
If you are authorized to work for a specific employer or a foreign government, your passport and Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) are your authorization to work.
All other non-citizens need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You are eligible for an EAD if you are
An asylee or asylum seeker
A student seeking particular types of employment
Applying to adjust to permanent residence status
Applying for temporary protected status
The fiancé or fiancée of an American citizen
The dependent of a foreign government official
To apply for an EAD, start at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site.
Fees for an EAD are substantial and can amount to several hundred dollars.
Replacing a High School Diploma
If you graduated from high school, but you don’t have a diploma or other certificate of achievement, you can write to the school and ask for a copy. You will almost certainly need this document if you want to continue your education, but a prospective employer may ask for it, as well.
If you can, call the school and find out what information you need to send them and whether there is a fee. Most public school districts and almost all private schools have Web sites where you can get addresses and phone numbers of their schools. To find a public school’s Web site, google the city and state, plus “public schools.
In general, your letter should include
your full name;
the name on your diploma, especially if different from your present name;
your date of birth;
the month and year you graduated;
the address to send the replacement diploma to; and
any fee, if you know how much it is.
Another option is to ask for a transcript of your grades. Some organizations will accept this instead of a diploma, and getting the transcript may be faster and cheaper.
Either way, the process will probably take weeks, so be prepared to wait.
Immunizations and Medical Records
You can save yourself time and trouble by keeping records of the kinds and dates of your (and your family’s) vaccination and other immunization records. Records of medical procedures, treatment for injuries, medications you use, and any allergies will improve the quality of your health and medical care.
Tips for Dealing with State and Federal Agencies
You may not find all the information you need on a Web site, or you may find that a Web site is not always up to date. Here are some tips for getting the help you need as efficiently as possible.
Before you head to a state or federal agency to obtain documents, it’s a good idea to call ahead to get a complete understanding of what you will need for the agency to process your application. You will want to know:
The documents you need to bring;
What alternative documents you can bring if you do not have the exact document required;
The cost as well as the methods of payment accepted. Some agencies take cash or checks, while others will allow payment only with a debit or credit card.
The exact location of the office; and
If you’re driving, where the best place is to park;
The days and hours the agency is open. In this economy, states and local agencies have cut back on employees and hours of operations.
Calling a state or federal agency can be challenging. Here are certain key points to remember:
Calling early in the morning can be helpful. In some places, state and federal employees may be at their desks long before official opening hours.
Although the main number for questions at the agency may be open from 9 AM to 5 PM you, are free to call any employee at the agency and ask questions.
If the person you speak with does not have the answer, ask him for the name and number of someone he believes may be able to help you.
The best place to find phone numbers for federal employees is the US Government Telephone and E-mail Directories.
State employee directories for most states are online. In some cases, the employee’s email address is available, as well. At the state level, you can accomplish some functions at different locations throughout the state. If you live in a busy area, driving to the next closest state office in a more rural area may be easier.
A great place to start your search for state phone numbers is at the state and local government site. You will find listings for all fifty states, as well as many local government agencies, here.
When you call state or federal employees and they refer you to someone else for help,
Remember to tell the person you speak with that “so-and-so in the other department told me you would be able to help me.”
If you are having a lot of problems finding the right answers, starting at the top of the agency can be very useful.
A call you place to the head of the agency will usually be answered by the agency’s Executive Assistant. This is usually someone who has been with the agency for some time and is very knowledgeable about information sources for getting answers quickly.
Being able to say “Jane Smith in Mr. Head-of-the-agency’s office referred me to you” is extremely valuable. After they hear that, most people will go out of their way to help you.
Protecting Your Identity
These identifying documents are not only necessary, they are valuable. They open the door to many opportunities, so the information on them attracts people who can use them to cheat or steal. Identity theft, as it’s called, comes in many forms. Some basic precautions to protect yourself are in order.
Keep copies of key documents so that if you lose the originals, you have the information you need to get a replacement. (For a passport, you need only copy the facing pages with your photo and the passport number.) It’s also helpful to keep a list of the documents and their identifying numbers in a separate location from the documents.
Do not give out personal information without good reason.
Schools, banks, employers, and other organizations may have good reason to ask for your Social Security number, date of birth, and other identifying information; but be cautious about sharing such details widely.
Social Security numbers are unique to every individual, and yours will confirm your identity.
Although many organizations will ask for identifying information in response to your request for services or employment, no reputable organization will initiate a correspondence that asks for your Social Security number, date of birth, account numbers, or similar confidential information.
Keep watch over wallets, purses, and bags in which you keep money and ID cards.
Don’t leave purses hanging on the backs of restaurant chairs or lying in supermarket carts.
Don’t stuff your wallet into a back pocket where it’s conspicuously outlined.
If you must walk in dark, lonely streets or late at night, keep your IDs and money in your pockets, not in a purse or backpack.
Be especially careful when you are giving out identifying information online.
Check to be sure that the little padlock that indicates a secure site is on.
Online sellers do not need your Social Security number or date of birth for a legitimate transaction, or to open an account.
Online “surveys” need only general information about your age (usually a range), occupation, and so forth.
Petitions you “sign” may want your address as well, but they are out of order if they ask for more.
Lending your identity documents to another person is illegal and, in the case of medical or other important personal information, could endanger both of you. Your Social Security and insurance cards, and other identification documents are for your use only.
HOUSING AND UTILITIES
Housing and Utilities
Temporary HousingTemporary or Emergency Housing
You need an address to do almost anything, from applying for jobs to getting needed documents, and, of course, for shelter. So if you are moving, finding a place to stay is a priority. Often it is easier to find temporary housing—a place where you can stay for a while until you settle basic questions like where you will work or study and how much money you have to live on.
If you can plan ahead, try to arrange a place to stay before you leave. If you
must leave in a hurry, or
must keep your departure a secret, or
have no contact with the outside world,
you may not be able to plan ahead where you will stay.
Here are some options for temporary housing.
Staying with Family or Friends
A friend or family member who can take you in for even a night or two is a major resource. Family and friends may understand more than you realize about what happened to you and — even though harsh words might have been exchanged between you — may be glad to help now that you have left the group.
Ex-members have found that even families who explicitly cut them off would have been ready to help had they known of the need. In that situation, try a phone call. You might say something like this:
“Hi, [name of person]. This is [your name]. I want you to know that I’ve left [or “I’m planning to leave”] [name of the group]. I need a place to stay; and I wondered if, despite everything, you could take me in for a couple of nights?”
Keep to the point and try to get your news out immediately (before your family member has a chance to hang up). Explanations and apologies can wait—preferably until you see her in person, but certainly until you know what kind of reception you will get.
If you are with friends or family members, you will have a breathing space to think about the next steps. It’s important to discuss with your hosts just how long you might need to stay, and whether that length of stay is OK with them. You might want to prepare for this conversation by asking yourself:
How long will it take to get missing documents, like a Social Security card or the birth certificate that I need for a photo ID?
Do I have a health condition that will prevent me from working right now?
If you don’t have a job] What job skills do I have? Are jobs using those skills available in the area where I’m staying? And, vice versa, what jobs are available that I can do? (See Jobs and Careers for more about this.)
[If you already have a job, or once you get a job] How long will it take to save enough money to get my own place?
It’s important to be as realistic as you can. But “realistic” doesn’t mean “pessimistic.” It means picking the most likely possibility, not the best or worst. For example, if the Social Security office tells you that your card will come in two to six weeks, but these days it usually takes four weeks, figure that you will get your card in four to six weeks.
Your hosts will want to be supportive. Encourage them to be realistic, too. Sleeping on the sofa for a few nights is not the same as moving in for three months. Everybody needs to think and talk about it.
You may be better off if you
find transitional housing—a longer-term but still temporary arrangement; or
find another friend or family member you can stay with for longer.
Fitting in. It’s a good idea to talk things over with your hosts and find out what will make your stay as easy as possible for all of you. For instance,
What do your hosts need from you as a guest?
Do they need you to be out of—or in—the house daily by a given time?
Are they vegetarians who don’t want meat in the house?
Do you need to be quiet after a certain hour at night so they can get to sleep?
Are there times when someone else must have use of the bathroom?
What do you need for this arrangement to work?
Will you be dependent on them for transportation?
Are you a vegetarian who finds the odor of meat offensive? And, if so, how will you get along with your meat-eating hosts?
Will they expect you to go to church with them, even if at present you are very uncomfortable in church?
If they need to ask you to leave, how much notice will they give you?
You probably won’t cover all the issues in one conversation; but if you set the tone of openness and honesty right at the start, it will be easier to raise issues later during your stay.
In the group, you may have spent your entire day doing menial household duties—cleaning, cooking, laundry—for others. Or, as a former member of an elite segment of the group, you may be accustomed to having others do all these chores. In mainstream society, everyone is expected to pitch in. This makes the chores less dreary all round and also reflects the mainstream view that such chores are not demeaning. No matter how long or short your stay, it is important to assist your hosts with a reasonable share of routine tasks like
other family chores, such as shopping, babysitting, lawn mowing, or snow shoveling.
What is a reasonable share of household chores? Each household has its own habits and ways of doing things. You might start by noticing what these are.
In one home, for instance, jobs may be specifically assigned. One person may always clear the dirty dishes, another wash the pots, and so on.
In another family, each member of the household may do his or her own clearing and washing up.
In yet another, duties may rotate, with each person taking a turn at every chore.
You can fit yourself into this pattern by offering to help, and by paying attention to responses to your offers. This doesn’t mean that you should take on everything you can possibly do. You can look for
tasks that are easier or more convenient for you than others, or
that fit your schedule more comfortably, or
that are more difficult for other household members to accomplish than for you.
You may notice chores that go undone, such as cleaning the garage or washing the car, because no one else has the time to do them. (It’s important, in this case, to check first. If the family members don’t care about this particular task, they may not appreciate your doing it.) Other considerations are the amount of time and effort you put into this activity.
Chore time should fit into your schedule and conform to your needs, as well as your hosts’ needs.
You’re not expected to spend hours every day on household chores, nor to take on a major responsibility.
If your hosts ask you to take on a chore you strongly dislike, you can say so, and request a different assignment.
Men may not do housework where you came from; but in mainstream America, most do, especially house guests. Men do traditional chores such as
mowing the lawn and
carrying out the trash.
But they also
do the laundry, and
help with shopping, cleaning, and cooking.
Your hosts will welcome your assistance.
Sharing the costs. You can show that you’re mindful of the costs of the hospitality:
If you can, pay something toward the household costs—food, gas, and so forth—of your stay.
You can chip in by buying groceries or gas, or some needed household item.
If your stay is long, you can arrange to make a regular payment, even if you can afford only a small amount.
Emergency shelters are free sleeping places that local governments or private charities provide. Checking into a “homeless” shelter may seem demeaning, or even frightening, but it’s usually preferable to sleeping on the street. Although some shelters are better run than others, many offer support services to help you get back on your feet in addition to a place to sleep and shower. Some shelters take all comers; others are more selective and provide services only to specific groups, such as women with children.
If you do not have a “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” you are officially “homeless,” a status that entitles you to stay in a shelter.
Many shelters will not admit you if you have a friend or family member who could take you in; so if you have been staying with someone, you must make it clear that you are no longer able to stay there.
Rural areas have few shelters; so if you need a shelter, get to or near a city.
Most shelters offer
a bed for the night,
Some shelters offer breakfast or other meals. Those that do not can tell you where to find soup kitchens that provide meals for homeless people.
There are different kinds of shelters:
Some take only men or only women without children.
Some take women with children.
Some take both men and women, but do not take children.
If you are under eighteen, or in your early twenties, there are shelters specifically for you. See Teenagers on Their Own for more information.
Some shelters offer support services that will help you get medical care or find a job.
Some will allow you to leave your things there during the day. Others require you to take everything with you each morning.
Most will help you find a daytime center where you can stay while the night shelter is closed. Often, day centers will also provide meals and support services, like help in finding a job or registering for public assistance.
Some shelters have rules about how long you may stay.
Some have waiting lists, so you must check in frequently to find out whether a bed is open for you.
Some shelters are not well-supervised. If you feel unsafe, or if there’s a lot of noise and disorder at night, try a different shelter.
There will be rules about residents’ conduct. Violators may be expelled from the program.
To find shelters in your area, google “Emergency shelter,” plus the name of your city or county.
The shelter may be far from comfortable. But you will have a place to sleep and an address you can use to get a photo ID (you will need to get a form from the shelter staff), and to apply for a job or other assistance, such as food stamps or transitional housing.
Domestic Violence Shelters
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are eligible for a shelter especially designed to assist you.
Domestic violence shelters
offer a higher level of safety than other shelters, and
keep their locations confidential.
They may help you get a protective order to keep the offender away from you and your family.
Most domestic violence shelters also offer counseling in addition to the usual services.
To find a domestic violence shelter in your area, google “domestic violence shelter,” plus your state or city. You will find a contact number, but not an address.
Transitional housing is longer-term, low- or no-cost temporary housing, where you can stay for several months until you are able to afford your own place. Support staff at an emergency shelter or a day program can help you find transitional housing. Some transitional housing programs will accept people who have been staying with family or friends. Others will not.
In a transitional housing program:
You will be assigned a regular room (which may come with a roommate), with storage space for your belongings.
There will be food service or a kitchen to prepare your own food.
There will probably be support services, such as help with employment, education, or job training.
You can expect more privacy and more comfort than in emergency shelters.
If you are employed, the facility will charge you to cover part of the cost of the program.
As with shelters, there will be rules about residents’ conduct. Violators may be expelled.
You usually will be assigned household chores, to help keep the place clean and neat.
Your status is still officially “homeless.”
Religious organizations sponsor or support many transitional housing programs. A few housing programs have religious restrictions or requirements, such as participating in a prayer service. Most don’t, but you may want to ask about those things before you enter a program.
Hostels are very inexpensive, but usually safe and clean overnight accommodations intended primarily for travelers.
A few hostels have rooms for families; but in most, guests are expected to share a room with others, dormitory style.
Many hostels have kitchens where you can prepare your own meals, and laundry facilities.
Stays may be limited.
It’s usually a good idea to make reservations ahead of time.
For more detailed information, you might start at the Web site of a large hostel organization.
Hotels and Motels
If you have a job, you may be able to go directly to a motel or hotel. Motels and hotels range in quality from out-of-sight luxurious and expensive to suspiciously cheap and possibly dangerous.
Some offer weekly or monthly rates, usually a better deal than daily rates. Many offer basic kitchen facilities, such as refrigerator, microwave oven, and cooktop burners, along with a few dishes and pots.
When choosing a hotel or motel, you will need to make some quick decisions about the quality and safety of the place. Here are a few points to keep in mind:
A brand or chain name on the front is not necessarily a guarantee of quality.
Use your own judgment by looking at the condition of the building: Is it clean? Well-kept? What are its rental conditions?
A place that rents rooms by the hour is less likely to be safe and quiet.
Before you accept a room in a hotel or motel, it’s a good idea to check that
the door locks securely,
the toilet flushes,
the lights go on and off, and
the telephone works (if you need a telephone).
If the answer to any of these is “No,” you can refuse the room and ask for another room, or get your money back and leave. (The front desk will usually offer to come right up and fix the problem. Maybe they can and will; but you are better off with a room where things work. If you wait, you may find they can’t fix things in your room after all, and the other rooms have meanwhile filled up.)
If the towels or bed linen look dirty, you can ask for a clean room.
If, for any reason, you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, you can leave without notice (although you may have to pay an extra day’s rent). You don’t need to explain or justify why you are leaving.
Most hotels and motels expect you to pay by credit or debit card. If you don’t have either of those, be prepared to pay cash in advance.
Temporary Housing Rental Basics
For clear and useful information about renting a house or apartment, check out the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development web site, which links to information ranging from whether or not you are eligible for government-assisted housing, to the laws in your state about tenants’ rights and responsibilities, to “Tips every tenant should know.”
Following are some important things to think about when you are looking for housing.
Location of housing
You must be able to get from your home to your job, school, or other necessary place.
If you use public transportation, look for neighborhoods with good service, preferably on a bus or rail line that serves places you need to go.
Is there frequent, reliable service at the times you will be coming and going? (Some bus lines run during morning and afternoon rush hours only; many run infrequently at night; some don’t run at all on weekends or late at night.)
How long will you spend traveling to and from work or other places? Is that amount of travel time manageable?
Are there grocery and drug stores within walking distance or easily reachable by nearby public transportation?
If you plan to drive, how long and how complicated will your trip to and from work be? Is there a place to park your car?
If you have school-age children, you will probably want to find out about the public schools to which they will be assigned. See Parenting after the Cullt for more information about public schools.
How safe is the neighborhood? Are the streets clean and well lit? Are there people walking about in the neighborhood? Do people from your “old life,” who might make it harder to build a new life, live in the neighborhood?
Talk to friends who know the area.
People in the neighborhood are usually willing to talk about neighborhood life when you tell them you are thinking of moving there.
Local newspapers often publish listings of crimes, whose locations you can check against a map of the area.
You can also look online. Google “crime statistics,” plus the name of the city, town, or country.
A rough rule is that you should not pay more than one-third of your monthly income for housing.
If possible, try to pay less.
If necessary, prepare to pay more.
Under no circumstances should you pay so much for rent that you cannot afford to get to and from work.
Some ways to keep the rent down are to
Check whether you are eligible for any of the government programs described below (if you haven’t already).
Locate farther from an urban center and accept a longer commute.
Settle for a smaller place—one room (sometimes called a studio or efficiency), rather than a one-bedroom apartment, for instance.
Find an older building, or one with fewer amenities. An apartment in a walk-up will cost less than a comparable place in an elevator building.
Consider sharing the space with someone else who can pay some of the rent.
Keep in mind that prices tend to go up. Try to avoid paying the utmost you can afford (unless you have good reason to think that next year you will be earning more), so you will have the resources to pay for higher rent or utility bills as prices rise.
See Money and Budgeting for a fuller discussion about managing your income and expenses.
Finding a Place
Once you have decided how much you can afford, and have identified neighborhoods you might live in, you can search online, in print, and on foot.
You will find listings in the local newspapers under Housing in the classified ads. These listings will give you an idea of prices in the neighborhoods you’re looking in.
Other online sources will pop up if you google “rental housing,” plus the name of your city.
www.craigslist.org is an all-purpose buying-and-selling site where individuals list offerings. Before you shop on the site, read “Avoid scams and fraud,” listed in the lower left-hand column of the Craigslist home page.
Landlord associations in many urban areas publish free booklets or papers listing apartments for rent. You can find these publications near bus or train stops, in supermarkets, and sometimes in public libraries.
Check print editions of local and neighborhood newspapers. Since most house-hunting gets done on weekends, most newspapers have many more advertisements for housing in their weekend editions, particularly on Sunday. Despite the convenience of the Internet, it may be more convenient to have print copies of these ads, since it’s easier to carry them around and make notes as you go.
If you walk around a neighborhood, you may see signs indicating places for rent. This is efficient because
You are looking right at the place and can see whether or not it’s well-kept and attractive.
You also know exactly where the place is in relation to public transportation, and whether it is on a quiet or busy street.
If it looks possible, you can walk up to the door and inquire further.
If you like the place, you can easily get details about the neighborhood, such as the availability of shops.
A combination of these methods will give you the best idea about where you want to live and whether or not you can afford it.
Leases and Rental Agreements
In addition to the price, you need to have clear, written information about other important terms and conditions of your rental.
The owner or agent will expect you to provide
proof of your identity;
proof of employment or other proof that you can pay the rent; and
a deposit, often one month’s rent, to cover the costs of repairing any damage to the apartment after you leave.
Rent is usually due promptly on the date agreed to, and is usually paid in advance. You will not receive a bill, and it is your responsibility to remember to pay on time.
A basic agreement should include
The exact and correct address of the place you are renting, including the apartment or room number
The amount of rent you will pay
The length of time the agreement is in effect (including beginning and ending dates)
When rent will be due
Any penalties for late payment of rent
The amount of your deposit
The conditions for which the landlord or owner may use the deposit, and the conditions under which you will get it back
What exactly the rent covers (Does it include utilities such as water, electricity, cable TV?)
Provisions for changing or ending the agreement: subletting, moving out, rent increases, and so on
In addition, the agreement may include miscellaneous items, such as rules about
Having a pet
Landlord’s access to the property
Who is responsible for which repairs or improvements
If you are sharing with a friend or renting one room in a small apartment, you may feel uncomfortable about the formality of asking for all this in writing. At the least,
Write down the basics (amount of rent, deposit, any utilities included, date you are moving in, and notice you must give before moving out) for yourself, and have the friend or person from whom you are renting confirm that the information is correct by initialing your notes.
In this more informal arrangement, you may also want to talk about use of shared kitchen, bathroom, and laundry facilities.
Cautions and precautions
You are entitled to ask questions and get answers before you sign. Be suspicious of anyone who tries to make you feel stupid or ignorant for asking a question, or tries to rush you into signing. Anyone who offers you a different room or apartment than the one you previously agreed on, or suddenly wants a higher rent needs to explain this last-minute change very clearly—and you need to think very carefully about whether you want to make a deal with this person at all.
Before you sign anything, read the whole document carefully.
Do not sign a document with blank spaces in it. Fill in a blank space with the correct information, or insert a dash, or “N/A” to signify the blank spaces are not needed for this agreement. Make these corrections yourself as you read through the agreement.
If the lease is a standard form, ask for an advance copy to read ahead of time, so that you won’t feel pressured by someone sitting across the table from you, waiting for you to sign. You may need plenty of time to understand what is in the lease.
If possible, get the actual lease you will be asked to sign, with all the details filled in. If not, take the standard form and fill in the blanks yourself.
When you get your filled-out lease, skim over it to make sure it is the same as the sample you were given.
Keep copies of every document related to your housing, from the rental agreement to the receipts for your deposit and rental payments.
A receipt is a written report of how much you paid, what for, and when you paid.
Receipts may be useful for purposes of applying for credit elsewhere, and of course also if there is any disagreement between you and the landlord.
If you pay by check, you may not get a receipt. Write a note on the check, rent, and the cancelled check will be as good as a separate receipt.
If you authorize payment by automatic withdrawal from a bank account, your monthly bank statements will confirm the payments.
Temporary Housing Types of Housing
Depending on your income, work obligations, and personal preferences, you may find several different types of housing in the area you are interested in.
Rooms and Shared Housing
The cheapest housing available is usually a rented room.
Rooms are cheaper than apartments because they generally involve sharing a bathroom and kitchen, or lack cooking facilities entirely.
Some rooms come furnished; some require you to provide your own furniture.
Some rent by the week, others by the month.
Some rooms are in “shared” or “group” housing, an arrangement where those who already live in a house are looking for people who fit in with their way of life. People in this arrangement will want to meet and interview you to see whether they think you will be a good housemate. A “share” arrangement may require a longer lease.
Other rooms for rent are simply a business arrangement.
Expect to pay an advance payment of up to one month’s rent before you move in.
Renting a furnished room or sharing a house or apartment meets the basic need for an address and a place to sleep. If you are not ready to make a long-term decision about where to live, you can probably find a month-to-month rental. And you will need either little or no furniture. The disadvantages are
Sharing a bathroom can be inconvenient, and if you share with careless people, downright unpleasant.
Lack of space makes it hard to have a guest.
Lack of cooking facilities means a lot of fast-food meals.
Shared entrances and mailboxes may intrude on your privacy.
Apartments and Houses
A house or apartment will have its own kitchen and bathroom, more privacy, and usually, more space.
An apartment or house is almost certainly necessary if you have children because few rooming or sharing arrangements will take in children.
House and apartment rentals generally require a one-year lease, so it’s important to have a stable financial situation before you sign on.
It’s also important to take a very careful look at the place and the neighborhood, since it won’t be easy to move out if there are problems with either.
If you move to an apartment or house, you will probably need to furnish it. This can be a big demand on your time, money, and energy. There are some ideas for setting up a household inexpensively at Finding Essential Furniture and Equipment.
Temporary Housing Housing Assistance
Housing can be quite expensive in some areas. Even though you have a job, you may find that housing in your area costs more than you can afford. This section describes some ways of getting assistance with housing costs
if you cannot work because of poor health, or
if you earn a very small income and cannot afford housing in your area, or
if you are supporting children or other family members who cannot work, and your income isn’t enough to pay for housing for your family.
Rent for this type of housing is based on your ability to pay.
The federal housing authority is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You usually must go to the local public housing authority to start the process. You can find your local public housing office online by selecting the state in which you live.
Public housing was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Your local housing authority will determine whether you are eligible and how many rooms you need according to state or local regulations. The application process is lengthy, and there is usually a waiting list—sometimes years—once you are accepted.
HUD sets income limits for eligibility that vary from region to region, based on the median income in the county or metropolitan area where you live. The median income is the number in the middle of the range of incomes, meaning that an equal number of people earn both more and less.
For example,If there are 100 people in the area,and 50 of them earn more than $40,000 a year,while 50 of them earn less than $40,000 per yearthe median income for that area is $40,000.
If your income is 80% of the median, you are in the “lower income” bracket.
If your income is 50%—that is, half—of the median, HUD considers your income to be “very low.”
When you apply for public housing, you will probably be asked for this information:
Names of all persons who would be living in the unit, plus their sex, date of birth, and relationship to the family head.
Your present address and telephone number.
Family characteristics (e.g., veteran) or circumstances (e.g., living in substandard housing) that might qualify you for tenant selection preferences.
Names and addresses of your current and previous landlords, for information about your family’s suitability as a tenant.
An estimate of your family’s anticipated income for the next twelve months, and the sources of that income.
The names and addresses of employers and banks, and any other information the housing authority would need to verify your income and deductions, and to verify the family composition.
The public housing authority representative also may visit you in your home to interview you and your family members to see how you manage the upkeep of you current home.
Be prepared to show documents—birth certificates, tax returns, and so on, that support your statements. You can find more information about public housing here.
Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8 Housing)
Under this program, you apply through your local public housing authority for a certificate of eligibility, and then you find your own housing on the private market. Any landlord who meets the requirements may rent to you. The government will pay the landlord a share of the rent directly, and you pay the rest.
The income requirements for vouchers are much like those for public housing, and the application process is also similar. So is the waiting list, although it is more sensitive to market forces than public housing. For instance,
If the rental market in a given city is slow, landlords are more likely to agree to the paperwork and processing needed for government approval of their housing.
If there is a shortage of rental housing, landlords are more likely to opt out of public housing.
You can get more information about Section 8 housing here.
Privately Owned Subsidized Housing
The government also gives direct subsidies to apartment owners who then lower the rents they charge to low-income families and individuals, persons with disabilities, and senior citizens. Eligibility for this housing also depends on having a low enough income.
The process is a little different than other forms of subsidized housing. Go to this Web site, plug in the state where you wish to apply, and with a couple of clicks you will have a list of apartment owners who participate in this program.
To apply, visit the management office of the apartment development that interests you.
Assume that you will be asked the same information as you would for other subsidized housing programs, and that you will have to wait once you are accepted for the program.
Temporary Housing Utilities
If you rent, costs of some or all of the basic utilities may be included in the rental price. You will need to budget for utilities that are not included.
Water, Electricity, Gas, Heating, and Air Conditioning
Water, electricity, and gas are basic services that make your home livable and comfortable. Depending on what part of the country you live in, heating and air conditioning may be important.
If you are renting an apartment,
The landlord usually pays the water bill, and the cost is included in the rent.
Electricity is often the tenant’s responsibility.
Heating and cooling costs depend on the individual situation. If, for example, your apartment is heated from a central furnace, but cooled by window air conditioners, the landlord may pay heating costs while you pay directly for the air conditioning on your electricity bill.
If you are renting a house, you will probably be responsible for all these utilities.
Costs of water, electricity, and gas depend on how much you use.
Bills may be monthly, quarterly (every three months), or semi-annual (every six months).
The person who pays the bills is responsible for contacting the utility company to order services turned on or off. If you are a new customer, you may have to pay a security deposit in advance.
Utilities, especially heating or cooling, can be costly. It’s important to remember to estimate any costs you will have to pay and include them in your housing budget.
In addition to the basics, telephone service, Internet access, and cable or satellite TV are considered utilities.
Phone charges are not generally covered in rental payments. Since people are expected to be reachable by phone, you will have to consider how to connect to telephone service. If you have a computer and want to access the Internet from home, you will also want to arrange for Internet service. There are many options for both telephone and Internet service, and a wide range of prices. Depending on your needs, you can choose from among the following:
Landline service. This is the traditional telephone, hooked up to a phone line.
In some areas, the phone service may be interrupted when storms bring down the wires; but by and large, it is reliable.
Most telephone companies offer a number of packages that include Internet access and, in some areas, TV service, usually for a fixed rate.
If you want to make calls that are out of the local service area, you will also need to sign up for a long-distance provider.
Mobile service. Mobile, or wireless phones are rapidly outpacing landline service. Mobile networks enable users to have their phones handy wherever they are, not just in one place.
Wireless service is not available in every area of the country, and service from a given company may be quite limited or unreliable in places where it has few or no transmission towers.
International calling may not be readily available, or may be limited to a few countries.
Modern, hi-tech mobile phones may also connect to the Internet, take photos and videos, and send and receive text messages, email, books, and movies.
Costs for mobile phones are arranged in packages. There is usually no distinction based on the place or distance you are calling. You can sign up for a costly, multi-use package for a two-year term, prepay an amount to use as you go, or choose from a huge collection of other options in between these two extremes.
Internet telephone service. Based on your computer’s access to the Internet—which may be through telephone lines, cable, or wireless—you can subscribe to online phone service.
This option may be less costly than either landline or cell phone service.
The drawback is that you need to have a computer up and running to make or receive calls.
Skype is another computer-based service, for which you need neither phone nor a phone number if you have Internet access.
But you do need a computer, headphones, and a microphone.
You can download the software and make calls free of charge.
The service is limited, though, to others who have similarly equipped computers.
Skype also allows you to “chat”—using the keyboard—if someone doesn’t have a headset and microphone (or can’t make their gear work).
Internet access is available in multiple ways:
Traditional telephone lines offer “dial-up” and “accelerated dial-up,” the slowest and least expensive types of connection, and “DSL,” a higher-speed and more expensive connection. In a few areas, you can get “fiber optic,” the fastest and most expensive connection.
Cable TV companies, if you are a subscriber, offer service that is faster than DSL and generally more expensive.
Satellite TV companies also offer high-speed Internet access. However, they tend to be more expensive and less reliable than other types of access.
Wireless Internet access is increasingly available at no charge to you in coffee houses, airports, hotels, and other public places. For wireless access at home, you will need a provider, a computer with a wireless adapter, and special software (free) that finds the wireless connections. A directory of wireless Internet service providers might help.
Free-standing lines. If there is an unused telephone line in your home, you may be able to get Internet access without having a landline phone. This may be a good solution for cell-phone users who don’t want the expense of cable or satellite TV. To check out this option, google “Internet service without phone line.”
In general, you pay more for higher Internet connection speeds. For more information about Internet service providers, you can look here.
In urban areas, you can use an inexpensive antenna to get broadcast TV free over the airwaves from major networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and public television stations. In rural areas, or to get a multitude of other television channels, you must subscribe to a provider for a monthly fee.
Cable TV services provide television to viewers through fixed cables, as opposed to over-air broadcasting. To use cable, you will need a wire into your home, and wires within the home to wherever the TV is placed. Usually, there is only one cable company in the area, but you must choose among different packages of services with varying fees.
Satellite TV services are delivered from communications satellites and are received through satellite dishes and set-up boxes. To use satellite services, you must have a clear view to wherever the satellite is from your home. In some rural areas, this is the only way to get television.
In a very few places, telephone companies offer TV through fiber-optic networks.
The cost of these services varies, and the different companies offer different packages, ranging from “basic” to total. There may also be a charge for installing the service, and there is usually a time commitment, ranging from three months to a year or more.
If you sign up for a service with an unusually good deal, remember to check all the fine print (even if you need a magnifying glass to do so). There may be an unpleasant surprise a few months down the line in the form of reduced services and/or increased costs.
Some landlords pay cable or staellite TV costs. Usually, these landlords live in the building and are paying for their own TV; as a result, they incur small, if any, additional costs for additional outlets in the same building.
Temporary Housing Finding Essential Furniture and Equipment
A start-up collection of essential furniture and equipment is a one-time cost that you need to include in your beginning housing budget. Costs will vary, depending on where you live and how many people are in your household. Here are some ideas about the basic furniture and equipment you might need, and some suggestions about how to start your new household inexpensively.
What You Might Need
Enough beds for everyone.
A few chairs so people can sit at the table to eat or work.
Cooking and eating equipment—pots, pans, plates, cups, utensils for preparing and eating food.
Sheets, blankets, towels.
Curtains or blinds, if not already in place (towels or blankets hung over the windows are a possibility).
Lamps, for any rooms that don’t have built-in lighting.
That’s it. Chests of drawers, a desk, additional lamps (provided there are some built-in fixtures), TVs, and microwaves are nice, but they can wait a bit. As your resources of time, energy, and money increase, you can add rugs, sofas, and other amenities.
Where to Get Things
Shelving and storage. Boxes turned on their sides are good for storing clothing and linens. Supermarkets open hundreds of cardboard cartons every day.
Produce boxes are especially useful because they are very sturdy, yet small enough to move easily. But you might want some larger, less sturdy, cartons, as well.
Supermarket workers usually cut cartons up or break them down soon after they are emptied, so you may need to come at a particular time or speak to a particular person to get them. Ask a worker in the produce department of the supermarket how to get empty cartons.
You can also buy durable plastic storage boxes in all shapes and sizes. “Milk crates”— also turned on their sides—may serve as bookcases, or for shelving other heavy items like pots and pans.
Check online at office-supply and department stores in your area to get an idea of types, sizes, and prices.
Try “plastic storage boxes” as a search term on Google or Yahoo.
If you buy anything online, remember to add shipping costs to the item cost before you decide on the deal.
A slightly more costly shelving option is to purchase bricks and boards from a local lumber store. You can choose from a variety of lengths of board and use bricks to create shelves of varying heights.
Furniture can be extremely expensive, but there are ways to spend less:
Loans and gifts from friends and family may be a possibility.
Consider substitutions, like a card table instead of a kitchen table, or plastic garden chairs instead of wooden chairs.
Except for mattresses, consider used furniture. Used tables and chairs in good condition are available at very reasonable prices in most places. (Mattresses are risky unless they are personal hand-me-downs from someone you know who can assure you they are not infected with bedbugs.)
For beds, you can start with futons or inexpensive mattresses on the floor.
To get an idea of prices, you might look at www.craigslist.org, an all-purpose sales site. You will probably find pictures of many of the items advertised, which will also give you an idea of the quality and design of various items. It’s best to confine your search to items that are locally available, both to avoid shipping problems and to ensure you can see the furniture before you buy it. If you get at all serious about buying anything from Craigslist, read “Avoid scams and fraud,” listed in the lower left-hand column of the Web site’s home page.
Search Google and Yahoo for used furniture stores in your area.
Thrift stores, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other organizations often have outlets for donated furniture, some of it quite nice. Call before you go, to make sure they have the items you are looking for.
It’s very easy to misrepresent the size or condition of furniture over the phone or the Internet. Be sure you see any used furniture or equipment before you purchase it.
You may have to arrange for delivery of used furniture. Inquire about anything large before you buy it. You may have a truck or van (or friends with a truck or van who can help you). If not, you can check with the seller, who may know of someone who will deliver for a fee.
Equipment. It’s preferable to buy equipment new or from a reputable thrift store, unless you can get hand-me-downs from friends and family members.
For your kitchen, to get started you’ll need
a plate, bowl, drinking mug, knife, spoon, and fork for each person in the household;
one or two pots and pans;
simple utensils, like an all-purpose knife, a cooking spoon, and a turner;
a can-opener; and
a mixing bowl or two.
Inexpensive pots, pans, and other kitchen equipment are available at most supermarkets. You also can find inexpensive sets of dishes and eating tools at local department or variety stores.
Often, family members can spare a few towels or sheets. Unless you know where they come from, it’s advisable to buy new linens—sheets, pillowcases, towels, and blankets—since some pests may survive laundering. You can find inexpensive linen in department stores, and, more rarely, through online auction or bargain sites.
Buy only what you need immediately, because you can always buy more later.
One set of sheets and pillowcases per bed is enough if you have access to a washing machine and dryer.
If you live in a warm climate, or if it’s summer, you may be able to postpone buying blankets.
Extra towels, however, may be good to have.